Welcome back Friday night lights
Wildcats hit the road for Big 8 rumble
The football season for Missouri high schools officially begins on Friday night, as hundreds of schools across the state ease back into completion for the first time since March.
For the Cassville football team, (0-0) that means a trip to Mt. Vernon (0-0) to open the gridiron season.
While the biggest question in the area centers on how long the season may actually be, the coaches are keeping the players focused on playing it like it is a one-game playoff.
“Week 1 or Week 10, it does not matter,” said Lance Parnell, Cassville coach. “We are excited to play this one game, and if we are blessed, we will get to play another next Friday. I want our kids to play like Friday night is it and leave everything on the field.”
If the worst comes to be and the season is reduced to just one game due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, the Wildcats could not have chosen a better opponent than the Mountaineers.
“Coach [Tom] Cox and his defensive coordinator [Chris] Johnson do just an outstanding job of getting their team ready each and every week,” Parnell said. “It was Johnson’s defensive plan that gave us fits two years ago in the district title game, and he is just a good coach.”
The Mountaineers are looking to replace Zach Jones at quarterback, but they return experience in the backfield, on defense and at receiver.
“They have reloaded,” Parnell said. “We have to be ready to play.”
The Wildcats got their first taste of action on Friday with the annual jamboree, this year in Republic.
“I thought we competed well,” Parnell said. “We were physical and our experience came tighter. We still have things we can clean up, like our communication, but I was pleased overall.”
The 2019 Cassville football season was one area residents will not soon forget.
The Wildcats advanced all the way to the state title game and finished runners-up.
That taste of success and the motivation to finish the dream of a state title is what fuels the Wildcats and their rabid fan base as they enter the 2020 season.
Cassville did lose a bevy of talented seniors in All-State performers Bowen Preddy, DJ White, Andrew Prier and Deven Bates.
“We lost a really, really good senior class,” Parnell said. “[It’s] not just those guys that were All-State, but we had 15 seniors that all played huge roles for us, and they’re going to all be missed greatly.”
Fortunately, the cupboard is far from bare for the Wildcats this fall. The team returns senior Jaiden Reibert at guard after he earned first team All-State honors. Senior Hunter Chasteen is back at offensive tackle after earning Second Team Big 8 honors. Senior Zach Carney also returns on the offensive line.
“We have a strong group of seniors returning that all played a lot of snaps in 2019,” Parnell said. “We will look to our entire senior class for strong leadership. They had the opportunity to learn from a good group of seniors from 2019, and they got a lot of experience on Friday nights that will help them step into the leadership role in 2020.”
Senior Killian Barbee returns at tight end, and senior Zach Coenen, a First-Team All-State linebacker and Second-Team All-Big 8 running back, returns after rushing for 953 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior.
Senior Brett Cooper is back at receiver, as well, and so is senior Drake Reese, a First-Team All-State kicker who also earned First-Team All-Conference honors as a kicker and a punter. He nailed 49 extra points and 8 field goals last year. Reese will also be one of the team’s top receivers this fall.
One benefit of such a long season last year was the extra weeks of practice, a blessing that Cassville believes will pay off this year.
“The added practice time making a deep run in the playoffs will be a huge strength for us, I believe,” Parnell said. “The added practice time for the development of our younger players will be huge. We return a good core of starters on both sides of the football that should help with the transition of new faces filling holes left by graduation.”
Defensively, the Wildcats return eight starters. Coenen, the First Team All-State linebacker, made 115 tackles. He’s a 6-1, 215-pound player who added 2 sacks, a fumble recovery and an interception. Farris, the Second-Team All-State defensive back, made 73 tackles at safety and added 3 fumble recoveries and 2 interceptions.
The 6-3, 260-pound Reibert returns at defensive end after making 55 tackles and 4 sacks. Junior Garrett Kritz, a 6-1, 290-pound defensive tackle, returns after making 47 tackles and a sack.
Senior Patrick Dunker also returns at tackle. He’s 6-1, 275 pounds and made 10 tackles and a sack. Cooper is back at corner after recording 21 tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception. Reese also returns at safety, and senior Jerome Ewing is back at corner after recording 23 tackles and an interception.
“Our expectations are to be very competitive again and get better as the year goes on,” Parnell said. “I think we return a really nice senior class. Those kids got a taste of making a deep playoff run and they have the drive to get back there.”
Ticket details regarding the varsity football game at Mt. Vernon.
• Gates open at 6 p.m.
• A ticket is needed to attend the game. Cassville Athletic Department will communicate with football players and cheerleaders to discuss tickets for their families. If additional tickets remain, the school district will evaluate options to distribute the remaining tickets.
• $4 for adults and $2 students or Big 8 passes are accepted with a ticket
• Masks are recommended but not required
• Parents are asked to wait by locker rooms to congratulate and sign out after the game.
• Mt. Vernon will be allowing 800 home spectators and 350 visiting spectators.
• Spectators will not be allowed in the stadium without an entrance ticket.
• Cassville spectators need to be seated every other row. 150 seats will be available in the bleachers.
• Some bleacher seats will be labeled “NO SEATING” to assist with social distancing.
• Visitor Standing Room Only - 200 spectators along the 4-foot fence.
• Entrance Tickets will be given to the visiting school in advance to distribute as they desire.
• All spectators will enter through the north stadium gate with their entrance ticket and will pay with cash or a pass.
• Spectators will not be allowed on the field at any time.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.